One of the most important things about church to me is the feeling of being part of something bigger than myself — something important.
One of the scariest things about church to me is the feeling of social pressure to agree with things that I don’t agree with.
Church is a tricky thing. Having friendships with people who have the same inner motivations as you is one of the greatest things a person can experience, whether it’s a religion, a political group, a cause, even just a passion about a hobby. But unlike most hobbies, religion carries with it the idea that you are supposed to believe certain things, think certain things, accept certain things, reject certain things.
And, as countless people have pointed out, religious leaders have the opportunity to shape the beliefs to match their own. Whether it’s done deliberately or incidentally, whether it affects the core beliefs or the tangential esoterica of doctrine, the fact is that not everything in anyone’s church is strictly the original intent.
The real difficulty is that as people mature, their views on things change, and often the changes coincide with church teachings. New understandings open the way to new enlightenment, and very often the church has been promoting these new understandings and new enlightenments. It may be coincidence that a churchgoer experiences this in conjunction with a church teaching, but often it really does make sense. The point of a church is to guide people to better ways. Unfortunately, this leads to a reliance strictly on church teachings. In many churches, that’s encouraged — doctrine is defined so that people don’t “stray” too far from the path that their leadership has determined. What’s the point of doctrine if you don’t mind when people go their own way?
It’s a good thing when the church leadership has the wisdom to guide people to understanding why the doctrine exists, as opposed to treating it as YOU VIOLATE THIS AND YOU ARE DAMNED TO THE DEEPEST DARKEST MOST POORLY VENTILATED CORNER OF HELL.
The uneasy balance that I find is that one has to be able to delineate what is actually related to doctrine and what is not related to doctrine. Trying to determine when you’re supposed to get over your own issues in order to take an important step with your faith, versus finding yourself at an impasse between personal imperatives and the leadership decisions of a church.
How does one make those sorts of decisions? How does one know when you should be striving to change who you are for the better, and when you should take a stand on who you are?